||This column is the bishop’s communication with the faithful of the Diocese of Madison. Any wider circulation reaches beyond the intention of the bishop.
In this past weekend’s Gospel (Jn 6:51-58), we hear Jesus say, “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you do not have life within you.” What is Jesus talking about, that he’s going to give us His flesh to eat and His blood to drink? Does He think we’re cannibals?
For those who actually admit that Jesus said what He did, there are two possible responses: one is: “How could that be? I don’t understand;” and the other is, “This is crazy. I’m walking away. I don’t want to hear any more of this!” If we were to continue reading John’s Gospel, we would see both responses from those who heard the words from Jesus’ own mouth. Even in His own day, even with Jesus standing there before them, there were some who said, “This saying is hard; who can accept it (Jn 6:60)?”
That’s why the first reading from this past Sunday (Prv 9:1-6), speaking of wisdom says that wisdom is given to the simple, to those who do not understand, who are receptive. Wisdom is given, then, to those who say to Jesus, “how can this be, I don’t understand.” Those who were able to admit “I don’t understand,” were the simple ones, indeed, they’re the ones who are open to wisdom. Those who walked away and said, “I know better than all this,” were the ignorant. In the Second Reading (Eph 5:15-20), St. Paul implores the people of his time and of ours, saying, “do not continue in your ignorance!”
Those who walked away from Jesus chose to continue in their ignorance. They chose not to be simple, not to be humble by saying, “I don’t understand.” Rather they chose to walk away and say, “no more of this. This cannot be. I know better.”
Humble acceptance of wisdom
I was blessed to go over these readings during the celebration of the 100th Anniversary of the Parish of St. Mary in Palmyra this past weekend. The reason why the faith has survived for 100 years in Palmyra, indeed, the reason why the faith has survived for some 2,000 years in our world and for so many years in each of our parishes, is that there has been a receptiveness to wisdom and there has been a humble admittance on the part of countless women and men, priests, bishops, and religious that, “I don’t understand.”
With this humble admittance, there has been an openness that the Holy Spirit might teach us. Men and women, such as those who read this column now, have chosen to stay with the Holy Spirit and not chosen to walk away saying, “I know better,” and in this way the faith has been able to carry on. Through the ages there have been women and men who have allowed themselves to be “simple people,” in the very best sense — simple not meaning stupid, but meaning so wise that they know when they don’t understand. Simplicity and humility go together, and that kind of simplicity and humility have enabled the faith to go on. And while we’re so deeply grateful for the past, the most important thing is that we recommit ourselves to going forward into the future, with that same simplicity and with that same humility that preserves and carries on the faith.
Moving forward with simplicity
While we’re deeply grateful for the past, looking to the future is certainly the most important item on the agenda. How do we go forward and hand on the faith as it has been handed on to us? We go forward with that same humility and that same simplicity, that same willingness to be taught as those who stayed with Jesus were willing to be taught, saying to Him, “I don’t understand, help me understand.”
Those who offered themselves in simplicity and humility are the ones who went on with Jesus. And you are called, just like them, to walk on with Jesus: to go on in faith, to go on in simplicity and to go on in humility, sitting at the feet of Jesus and learning more about Him and our faith, but also applying our faith to our own age.
But what does it mean to go on in faith and to pass the faith on today? Right now, in our country’s history, it means that we have to stand up for our freedom of religion. We can’t carry the faith forward and fulfill our responsibility to the Lord and to all of our forefathers and foremothers, and to all future generations, unless we are willing to stand up and be counted when it comes to protecting our religious freedom — which is most certainly under attack. There are no two ways about it.
And so we have to stand up and be counted. We have to sign petitions to protect our religious liberty — and not only ours, but the religious liberty of every religious person in this country because what can be done to us today can be done to others tomorrow. We have to make our voices heard to our elected officials, writing to them and helping them to see just how important our faith is to us.
And then there comes the vote in November . . . Many bishops have said (not only myself) that we have to stand up and really make our decision about for whom we vote, on principle and not depending on to which party we may or may not belong. This time too much is at stake. This time we have to put party aside and say to ourselves, “who is going to protect our religious liberty and do we really care about that?” How can someone pass on the faith, who does not care about his or her religious liberty?
This is an election where we cannot hope both to pass on the faith and to vote mainly according to my “party choice.” We have to step back and really examine the candidates and the issues. We have to step back and ask, which candidates — whether local, state, or federal — are going to help us to protect our religious freedom, which candidates are going to help us to observe and to teach about what it means to be a human being?
What about the sacredness of humanity from conception until natural death?
What about the foundation of our society — marriage — meaning one husband, one wife, one lifetime, with openness to children?
What about the rights of parents to teach their children according to their beliefs? If parents, if husband and wife, mother and dad are not the first educators of their children, if we don’t fight for that, then the state can step in and, more and more, become the first educator of our children. And when the state steps in as the first educator of our children, we no longer have a pluralistic society, or a democracy, because as the state controls education, it will indoctrinate, and it will indoctrinate in state-imposed secularism — a religion without Christ certainly, a religion even without God.
If we don’t stand up for our religious freedom, that’s where we’re headed — to state-imposed secularism where young men and women are indoctrinated according to the convictions of the state and not their parents. It’s a marvelous way to chip away at religious freedom.
Protecting human nature, religious freedom
So, the sacredness of human life, from conception to natural death, the sacredness of marriage as God created it, freedom of conscience, religious freedom, all of these things hang in the balance. So when we prayerfully consider the importance of these things, it doesn’t really matter whether one is a Republican or a Democrat, it matters that we believe these things to be of tremendous import and that we are called to protect the ecology of human nature and religious freedom. Our faith then must be far more basic to who we are at the core than our politics.
That’s the path of examination for each Catholic in this diocese, indeed, in the country if we’re going to hand on the faith and protect the legacy of our forefathers and foremothers. Let’s pray about that, let’s think about that, and let’s take it very seriously. This is the single most important election that I will ever participate in during my lifetime. And I do believe that my vote and your vote will be cast in November, but that that vote will be recorded in eternity, and is certainly worthy of a deep examination.
Thank you for taking the time to read this! May God bless each one of you! Praised be Jesus Christ!